WOMAD sported one of its best line-ups in years to its largest audience to date for a memorable weekend in the sunshine. Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti, Gotan project… the list goes on and on
See WOMAD in pictures…
The proceedings kicked off with Yerba Buena’s unique blend of punky Cuban hip hop to the already sizeable crowd just after lunch on Friday. Dimi Mint Abba and gothic Finish eclecticists Varttina kept the pace up. I caught Daby Balde on one of the smaller stages (Radio 3’s nice little stage) for a classic WOMAD afternoon moment of rocking out to African music in the sun. Mexican ska-anarcho-Zapatistas Los De Abajo had the main stage bumping along to their mezcla as the sun went down.
As Gotan Project is primarily a pair of DJs, it was interesting to speculate how their show would look. The answer was spectacular, with huge projected backdrops to the handful of live musicians on stage and the DJ boys at the back.
Back to the main stage for Salif Keita. Having seen a number of his gigs, this was not his best perhaps, it seems he only really comes alive with direct contact with the audience but Salif on auto-pilot is still one of the greatest performers on earth and he made my night by singing my all time favourite song of his, ‘Mandjou’.
Just time to catch the delicately updated sounds of classical sitar with Anoushka Shankar before calling it a night. Those with more energy reported the club events were great this year.
Saturday got off to a hell of a start for me with the Tuareg bluesmen Etran Finatawa. Sounds a bit like Tinariwen, well there is some similarity even if these guys are from neighbouring Niger. They lifted their set by dropping various modern elements in and out and then building them back in. Fascinating stuff. Emmanuel Jal took to the main stage for his conscious hip hop and told snippets of his amazing life story.
I caught some of Titi Robin’s flamenco-inflected musical explorations and wondered at the facial dexterity of his drummer. Thomas Mapfumo had to cancel his gig due to Visa problems (a bloody outrage, I bet this shit doesn’t happen with US stars). Fortunately, Toumani Diabate did get through and was certainly one of my festival highlights with some truly inspired kora playing and a big band of musicians obviously getting off on the vibe.
Intrepid as I am, I dipped my toe in country waters with Nancy Griffith but quickly pulled it out again and wandered over for a bit of Algero-trance-rock courtesy of Orange Blossom, whose live show is infinitely more captivating than their CD. I could hear Ska Cubano getting everyone going for it big time but was saving my energy for the diving flamenco of Enrique Morente. His band may look like Soprano junior captains but boy can they clap, play and sing.
Femi Kuti is of course the undisputed King of Afrobeat in the absence of his father and he brought it all out for the big stage. He even brought his little son on stage to play sax. My fellow photographers were desperately trying to concentrate on taking pictures of him but were distracted by being so close to his amazing dancers. Time for one more gig before bed and this was a slow but powerful piece of work by Trilok Gurtu and the Misra Brothers.
On Sunday I had to leave before Angelique Kidjo but there was time for plenty of music. The connoisseurs were all in the Siam tent for Djelimady Tounkara, one time member of the rail abnd and Malian guitar legend. I could see Andy Kershaw grinning from ear to ear at stage left and Lucy Duran hopped on stage from the other side to give the guitarist a tenner after a particularly good solo. Later in the same stage, the divine Susana Baca blew everyone away and was so involved in the lyrics of one of her own songs that she wept at the end.
I had to catch Zimbabwean legend Stella Chiweshe and I am glad I did, the place was bumping along to her upbeat numbers and spellbound by her unique personality. Two ladies of a certain age cast shocked looks at each other when they heard she was 60 this year. On stage she could have been 20. For me, the last gig was Pedro Luis Ferrer of Cuba. Pedro can be a little earnest at times but this was a delightful set, restrained much of the time but coming to life at the end with dancing and good vibes. Leylis the second guitar told me that were much better at their earlier gig of the day but that’s the way with WOMAD — whatever you do someone else will tell you how you missed something wonderful.
A superb weekend. We have pictures of all the gigs mentioned above at our sister site Flykr